Ernest Hemingway Biography @ LostGeneration.com The Final Years.
Ernest Hemingway Biography> The Last Days
Stung by the critical reception of Across the River and Into the Trees , Hemingway was determined to regain his former stature as the world’s preeminent novelist. Still under the muse of Adriana Ivancich, Hemingway began work on a story of an old man and a great fish. The words poured forth and hit the page in almost perfect form, requiring little editing after he’d completed the first draft. It had been a story simmering in Hemingway’s subconscious for some time...in fact he had written about just such a story in one of his Esquire magazine dispatches as early as 1936. Max Perkins periodically tried to persuade Hemingway to write the story, but Hemingway felt he wasn’t yet ready to write what his wife Mary would later call "poetry in prose."
Hemingway often described competition among writers in boxing terms. He felt he’d been suckerpunched and knocked to the canvas by the critics on Across the River and Into the Trees, but as if he’d been saving it for just such an occasion, he believed the fish story would allow him to regain his position as "champion."
In September of 1952 The Old Man and the Sea appeared in Life magazine, selling over 5 million copies in a flash. The next week Scribners rolled out the first hardcover edition of 50,000 copies and they too sold out quickly. The book was a huge success both critically and commercially and for the first time since For Whom The Bell Tolls in 1940 Hemingway was atop the literary heap...and making a fortune. Though Hemingway had known great success before, he never had the privilege of receiving any major literary prizes. The Old Man and the Sea changed that, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953.
Flush with money from the Old Man and the Sea Hemingway decided to exercise his wanderlust, returning to Europe to catch some bullfights in Spain and then to Africa later in the summer for another safari with his wife Mary. In January of 1954 Hemingway and Mary boarded a small Cessna airplane to take a tour of some of east Africa’s beautiful lakes and waterfalls. The pilot, Roy marsh, dove to avoid a flock of birds and hit a telegraph wire. The plane was badly damaged and they had to make a crash landing. The group’s injuries were minor, though several of Mary’s ribs were fractured. After a boat ride across Lake Victoria they took another flight in a de Haviland Rapide, this time piloted by Reginald Cartwright. Heading toward Uganda the plane barely got off the ground before crashing and catching fire. Cartwright, Mary and Roy Marsh made it through an exit at the front of the plane. Hemingway, using his head as a battering ram, broke through the main door. The crash had injured Hemingway more than most would know. In his biography of Hemingway Jeffrey Meyer lists the various injuries to the writer. "His skull was fractured, two discs of his spine were cracked, his right arm and shoulder were dislocated, his liver, right kidney and spleen were ruptured, his sphincter muscle was paralyzed by compressed vertebrae on the iliac nerve, his arms, face and head were burned by the flames of the plane, his vision and hearing were impaired..." Though he survived the crashes and lived to read his own premature obituaries, his injuries cut short his life in a slow and painful way.
Despite his ailments, Hemingway and Mary traveled on to Venice one last time and then headed back to Cuba. On October 28, 1954 Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but due to his injuries was unable to attend the ceremonies in Sweden. Instead, he sent a written acceptance, read to the Nobel Committee by John Cabot, the US Ambassador to Sweden.
After 1954 Hemingway battled deteriorating health which often kept him from working, and when he was working he felt it wasn’t very good. He had written 200,000 words of an account of his doomed safari tentatively titled "African Journal" (a heavily edited version was published in July of 1999 as True At First Light), but didn’t feel it publishable and didn’t have the energy to work it into shape. There were no short stories forthcoming either and those he had written he put aside as well, disappointed with his effort. He was struggling creatively as much as he was physically, and as a way to satisfy his writing "compulsion" he returned to those subjects he knew well and felt he could write about with little struggle.
In 1959 Life magazine contracted with Hemingway to write a short article about the series of mano y mano bullfights between Antonio Ordonez and Louis Miguel Dominguin, two of Spain’s finest matadors. Hemingway spent the summer of 1959 travelling with the bullfighters to gather material for the article. When he began writing the story however, it quickly grew to some 120,000 words, words that Hemingway couldn’t edit into short form. He asked his friend A. E. Hotchner to help (something he would have never considered in his prime) and together they succeeded in cutting it down to 65,000 words. Despite reservations about the article’s length the magazine published the article as "The Dangerous Summer" in three installments in 1960. This was the last work that Hemingway would see published in his lifetime.
Besides highlighting Hemingway’s increasing problem with writing the clear, effective prose which made him famous, his physical deterioration had become obvious as well during that summer of his 60th year. Pictures show Hemingway looking like a man closer to eighty than one of sixty. At times despondent, at others the life of the party, the swings in his moods, exacerbated by his heavy drinking of up to a quart of liquor a day, were taking a toll on those close to him.
During this time Hemingway was also working on his memoirs which would be in 1964 as A Moveable Feast. Hemingway wouldn’t live to see the success of this book which critics praised for its tenderness and beauty and for its rare look at the expatriate lifestyle of Paris in the 1920’s. There was a control in his writing that hadn’t been evident in a long time.
By this time Hemingway had left Cuba, departing in July of 1960, and had taken up residence in Ketchum, Idaho where he and Mary had already purchased a home in April of 1959. Idaho reminded Hemingway of Spain and Ketchum was small and remote enough to buffer him from the negative trappings of his celebrity. He had first visited the area in 1939 as a guest of Averill Harrimen who had just developed Sun Valley resort and wanted a celebrity like Hemingway to promote it. He had always liked the cool summers there and the abundance of wild land for hunting and fishing.
But even the beautiful landscapes of Idaho couldn’t hide the fact that something was seriously wrong with Hemingway. In the fall of 1960 Hemingway flew to Rochester, Minnesota and was admitted to the Mayo Clinic, ostensibly for treatment of high blood pressure but really for help with the severe depression his wife Mary could no longer handle alone. After Hemingway began talking of suicide his Ketchum doctor agreed with Mary that they should seek expert help. He registered under the name of his personal doctor George Saviers and they began a medical program to try and repair his mental state. The Mayo Clinic’s treatment would ultimately lead to electro shock therapy. According to Jefferey Meyers Hemingway received "between 11 to 15 shock treatments that instead of helping him most certainly hastened his demise." One of the sad side effects of shock therapy is the loss of memory, and for Hemingway it was a catastrophic loss. Without his memory he could no longer write, could no longer recall the facts and images he required to create his art. Writing, which had already become difficult was now nearly impossible.
Hemingway spent the first half of 1961 fighting his depression and paranoia, seeing enemies at every turn and threatening suicide on several more occasions. On the morning of July 2, 1961 Hemingway rose early, as he had his entire adult life, selected a shotgun from a closet in the basement, went upstairs to a spot near the entrance-way of the house and shot himself in the head. It was little more than two weeks until his 62nd birthday.